Eavesdropping on a dying girl’s inner monologue makes for a painful but powerful reading experience in this classic of Japanese young adult literature.
“It was darker with her eyes open,” begins Shizuko Go’s “Requiem,” which opens with the main character, 16-year-old Setsuko Oizumi, crumpled on the floor of a half-destroyed shelter after the World War II firebombing of Yokohama. She is nearing death and clutching her notebook, a diary crammed with letters from her best friend, Naomi Niwa. From the hazy thoughts of doomed Oizumi, the narrative weaves back and forth in time, recounting the letters and other correspondence that reveal her change from nationalistic, idealistic war-supporter to an awakened realist, waiting stoically to join her family and friends in death. Of particular resonance is her memory of her regret-filled relationship to younger classmate, Naomi, a girl whose family opposed the war. She was a rebel who was both comforted and eventually converted by Setsuko’s “good” example of a patriot.
“Requiem” realistically portrays the conflicting emotions of the two girls, each pressured, in their own way, by propaganda and society; each meeting a similar fate thanks to the indifference of war. Like her protagonist, author Go was 16 when WWII ended, and her authentic tale is still a powerful anti-war novel, lyrically translated and poignant to the last page.
Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.
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